Gulab, the 18-year-old daughter of our landlord, told us about a horrific motorcycle accident she had witnessed. After the crash the man was bleeding severely from his head and had gone into seizures “moving like a fish.” Then the movement stopped. She was on her way to school but was so traumatized by the accident that she turned around and came straight home, and was afraid to go to school for several days. She still sounded traumatized when she explained it all to us.
Shaheen, the 17-year-old girl who teaches literacy in one of my classes, was sitting in the literacy lab when we heard an announcement over the mosque loudspeakers that a woman had just died from illness. She was the same woman whose son had died that morning in a motorcycle accident (not the accident described above). Shaheen turned pale when she realized the connection, and couldn’t stop talking about how unbelievable and heartbreaking it was that the mother and son had died on the same day. I heard many of the people in the slum talking about it throughout the evening.
And today I found out that Rasheed, a young man from another city who I have worked with before and who is good friends with several of my friends, died of a cobra bite yesterday while doing his ecological work in the field. Many of my friends who knew him are distraught and unable to function.
I’ve had friends from the West claim, “those people don’t have the same value for life that we do.” And in some sense there is a level of truth there. Life takes on a different value when you see it lost over and over again, when death becomes a monthly event. For most of our lives we Americans sort of view ourselves as deserving immortality, and so we are shocked at anything that may threaten that. There can be religious reasons behind different values for life and death as well.
But when I see how my friends reacted in these situations, I know that the stereotype only goes so far. The frequency of death pains people here, hits them to their core, and contributes to much suffering for the community as a whole.